Uncollected Thoughts: Captain Marvel

One point for…

I usually go to a Marvel film expecting an entertaining time without anything exceptional on top and, for the most part, that’s what I get. And for Captain Marvel had not merely the generally good reviews the film has had but the specifically good words the film has had from my colleagues who have already been to see it. It was like that when I went to see Thor: Ragnarok, except that I wasn’t anything like as impressed with that film as everyone else. Hey, guess what?

It’s been a pretty crappy week personally, as I’ve been bordering on ill, and completely drained of energy every day, and I’m like that now. I had a morning appointment in Manchester for which I had to keep my wits about me, and it took a bit of willpower to go outside again, even if it was to enjoy myself. The seats at The Light cinema (screen 4 instead of 10 this time, nothing like as far to walk) are wide and comfortable and they slide out enough that you can practically lie-down in them. Which was not a wise thing to do because I was close enough to going to sleep as it was.

I was irritated to discover that the four trailers to which we were treated were all comic book films, three superhero, one Japanese manga. Ironically, the first of these was DC’s Shazam! which, as any veteran comics fan could tell you, stars Captain Marvel, the original Captain Marvel, that it. It looked good, I think it will prove to be good, and as a purist I hold the original in much higher regard than any of Maarvel Comics’ various trademark grabbers (though that’s a battle long-since won by Marvel, as well as being one DC have no moral right to win.)

Eventually, the big picture started. It was big and flashy, starting on Hala, home world of the Kree, noble space warriors, engaged in a long-standing war with the shapeshifting nasties, the Skrulls. Vers (our Captain Marvel) is a Kree warrior one of a six-person team under Yan-Rogg (Jude Law), possessed of the power to fire photon blasts from her hands, but hampered by her emotional issues, including her complete lack of memory of her past.

Vers and her team set out to rescue a Kree underground agent, but are led into a trap by the underhanded Skrulls. Vers (this is so contrived a name, not to mention one that had to be said a dozen times over before you could hear what it was supposed to be) gets captured, busts out in a long, running fight down spaceship corridors and winds up on Earth, wwhere S.H.I.E.L.D. (in the form of digitally de-aged Agents Fury and Coulson) try to apprehend her.

It’s only at this point, abut twenty minutes in, that the film decides to stop jerking its audience around with a confusing jumble of events lacking structure and starts piecing the actual story together. It’s a viable, indeed admirable story-structure, but paradoxically, this kind of chaotic approach needs to be carefully ordered if it is to hook and intrigue its audience into wanting to find out how the fuck it all fits together and not, as it did one member of the audience this afternoon, bounce them into the state of who the fuck cares how it all fits together?

By that point, the film had lost me and it was never going to get me back.

There’s nothing to be gained by expecting Marvel’s Film Universe to mirror the Comics Universe, nor should it. But after lining up the Skrulls as irredeemable baddies, the way they’ve been in the comics since they were introduced over fifty years ago, then to shift them into being the good guys, the innocents, was a step beyond credibility. There was also a tendency to overload the film with misshaped Easter Eggs, such as Dr Wendy Lawson, Earth scientist (Annette Bening) turning out to be a renegade Kree named Mar-Vell (Marvel’s first trademark securing CM, but a male), Carol’s best pilot buddy being Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), mother of eleven year old spunky girl Monica (Marvel’s second trademark securing CM, but an adult), and Carol’s full name being Carol Dan vers, with her Kree name deriving from a broken USAF pilot’s dog-tags: so ‘clever’ yet so predictable.

As for the acting, none of it particularly impressed me, Brie Larson looked good and hot in her Kree uniform/Captain Marvel colours, though she’s not very convincing when she has to run. Emotionally, to quote Dorothy Parker, she ran the gamut from A to B, and whilst she was mostly better off underplaying as she did, it left an absence not a presence in the centre of the film, and undercut those moments whe she tried to shift into an emotional higher gear.

And the film, like so many others, lost it in the ending by not knowing when to stop, just one conflict after another until they stopped meaning much of anything.

So, I’d give it a B-, most of which being made up of Larson in her leathers, and if the implication for the sequel is that it is about taking the war back to the Kree homeworld, I’ll take the proverbial rain-check. I think I’ll have a lot more fun with Captain Marvel than I did with Captain Marvel, even if I’m only allowed to call him that in my head. I’m preconditioned that way.

The Fall Season 2016: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4

And the next one out of the blocks is Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. for it’s fourth and, probably, last season. And it’s a brand-new dynamic, at least to begin with, because the old gang’s broken up, and nobody gets to see each other any more, and nobody quite trusts each other any more, although that’s probably got a lot to do with the new Director, who’s being made out to be something of an artificial mystery, because nobody refers to him as anything other than The Director. I think we can safely say it’s not Samuel L. Jackson.

Anyway, The Director has split the gang up, made them into Heads of things, not because they’re experts but because they had to be split up. Coulson and Mac are in the field, flying around on the Zephyr for six weeks and more at a time. Daisy’s gone rogue, as we knew from last season’s teaser. She’s publicly known as Quake, she’s knocking over banks, warmongers, financiers, The Director’s not only taken Coulson and Mac off the case, they’re positively forbidden to pursue her and the military have been ordered to shoot to kill.

May is head of a Strike Force, Fitz and Simmons have been split up professionally, he still in the Lab and she as Assistant to The Director, which means nobody trusts her before she angrily turns on a rather bitchy May and points out that she’s gone for such power in order to have some control over the gang of them and keep all their balls in the air.

Brett Dalton’s moved on, of course, having run out of roles to be reincarnated in, and his place in the cast is taken by none other than John Hannah, continuing as Dr Radcliffe, pardoned on condition he does no experimental or unapproved work. Naturally, he’s followed that stricture to the letter, except for creating a beautiful naked woman artificial being (a S.H.I.E.L.D. Life Model Decoy, from the comics, oh so very long ago) to disturb Fitz whilst he’s watching Aberdeen versus Inverness Caley Thistle in the Cup Final. Unfortunately for future harmonious relationships, Fitz decides they have to keep schtum, and that includes Simmons. For her own good, naturally.

So everyone’s running around in their own circles to begin with, which makes the episode a bit disjointed. But the early evidence seems to be that we’re going for a more superhero-tinged approach this year, with the introduction of the Ghost Rider, albeit one who drives a car, not a bicycle: the FX on his transformation into a burning skull are bloody good.

And a weapon has been unleashed, something released from a box, something that affects people, turns them paranoid and mad and lethal, makes their eye-sockets go crazy dark and cracked. It looks like a ghost, a woman ghost. And it’s in Coulson…

So here we go. Obviously, we need to get the comradeship back, and pretty damned soon because, refreshment or not, this split up bunch aren’t going to work that well at loggerheads. We need to see The Director and give him a name. Oh, and Robbie, the Ghost Rider, has this little tic or schtick about snapping his key ring round into his hand, which is already bloody irritating.

But that, I suppose, we’re stuck with.

End of Term Report: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here

And there goes another one, safely into hibernation until next September.

Reviewing a season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is always difficult because the show, from the outset, has always gone for a split season pattern, with a two/three month winter break, meaning that it basically functions as two mini-seasons, with changing themes from front to back half. It was especially so this year, with the first half being dedicated to rescuing Agent Simmons from the planet to which she got transported by the Monolith when season 2 ended, and the second to saving the Earth from Hive, the latest way to keep Brett Dalton in gainful employment on the show.

Basically, the show had a very good, very taut, deeply emotional first half which diffused rapidly once it came back out of cold storage.

Once again, I seem to be in a minority in enjoying Dalton’s cold, emotionless, very contained portrayal of Hive. There seems to be a low tolerance for anything that doesn’t at least nibble the scenery, but I’ve found it very effective.

Nevertheless, this year’s star has been Iain de Caestecker as Agent Fitz, who has been knocking it out of the stadium every single episode, not less in the second half than the first when he was driven every second by rescuing Simmons, and Will for her even after learning she had fallen in love with the latter.

So it’s been a particularly taut time in the back half when de Caestecker has been the rock on which the series has stood, and has finally got it together with Gemma (though he can’t yet quite believe his luck) and it’s been teased that he might have been for the chop.

Originally, this series was supposed to be about the Inhumans, and Daisy’s collecting the Secret Warriors. But, just as Marvel is now starting to row back on their determined push to have the Inhumans replace the X-Men as their leading franchise, that’s gone to the wall, and instead everything in the back half has been built up to her vision that someone on the team would die in an exploding shuttle. And you shall know them by their quite tasteful gold cross on a chain.

Said gold cross entered at the end of the penultimate week’s episode, donated to Mac. It duly bounced round half the team before settling upon Daisy, originator of such vision.

Now that would have been a bold and indeed dramatic ending, and I confess that it had been high in my thoughts. And her portrayal as a pawn of Hive and her piercing guilt for it seemed to leave her with nowhere to go except a conclusive and permanent redemption, and indeed the character herself was hellbent on that route.

But Chloe Bennett is an attractive young woman and let’s not pretend that that has no influence. Even though the Chekhovian gold cross ended up in her possession last, the show bottled on such a decision, and the Agent in the rocket doomed to explode turned out to be Lincoln.

This was a cowardly and disappointing choice, given that Luke Mitchell had only been in the cast this season, and had struggled to integrate with the team, but there was another death at the same time, which was more than due by this time: Hive was also killed, leaving Brett Dalton nowhere to go. Ever since he stunned everyone with the unforshadowed revelation that he was a double agent, the former Grant Ward has been a fascinating element of _S.H.I.E.L.D._, and they’re going to have to do a lot to replace him in season 4.

At least it wasn’t Fitz or Simmons. Elsewhere this season, I have had stern opinions (on which I will elaborate next week) about the manipulations of relationships on certain shows, and if this show, having carried the Fitz/Simmons story so successfully thus far had decided to snap it in two with the death of either character, it would have gone a long way towards destroying my anjoyment of the show.

The series ended with a ‘six months later’ flashforward to set up the new parameters for season 4. Dr Holden Radcliffe (a splendid, late season guest role for John Hannah, who would be welcome as a new regular in this quarter) has emerged from his heraings a vindicated man, and also a very successful one who’s about to introduce that long-term S.H.I.E.L.D. device, the Life Model Decoy.

Daisy has gone rogue, which is a completely logical development given her portrayal in the last couple of episodes, but also a regression to pre-Season 1 status when she was still Skye. She’s being hunted by Coulson and Mac, on the instructions of the Director, so at the very best Coulson’s suffered a demotion.

I wouldn’t get too attached to S.H.I.E.L.D. next season. It’s lost four cast members this year, two of them – Bobby and Hunter – very much to its detriment. ABC have already announced it’s to be pushed back form 9.00pm to 10.00pm on Tuesday nights, a slot everyone is describing as a ‘garbage fire’, so not conducive then. Add to this that ABC have definitely cancelled Agent Carter, whilst twice rejecting Most Wanted pilots (so much for spinning Annette Palicki and Lance Hunter into their own series), and it doesn’t argue much faith in the ongoing Marvel TV universe.

Nevertheless, I will be back for next year. It’s going to be very different, it seems, which has potential for both great new ideas or for utter disaster. At least I’m interested in finding out which it will be.

The Fall Season: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD goes into it’s third season in a state of rude good health, story-wise, though it’s audiences still aren’t necessarily what the network were hoping for. The show that sold itself as the Marvel Universe without the super-powers promptly put off that chunk of its audience that tuned in expecting to see Avengers every other week, but now it’s gearing itself up to embrace its own superpowers, of which there was a generous helping of that in the season premiere.

It hasn’t always been easy watching SHIELD, at least up to the last half dozen episodes of Season 1 when it suddenly kicked off and has been soaring ever since, but the show itself is full of confidence.

My policy of avoiding all but the most unmissable of spoilers means that I’m aware that this season will see the arrival of the Secret Warriors, which sounds uncomfortably like the unholy mess that has just descended upon Gotham, but I have hopes for better. It isn’t hard to project what that’s going to turn out to be, but Agents of SHIELD has a lot more hinterland behind it, so I expectany transition to be much more smoothly handled.

Even so, I’d forgotten several of the developments at the end of Season 2, like Coulson losing his lower left arm and Simmons being swallowed up by the Monolith, but the show soon brought me up to speed.

Just as Marvel Comics are busy pretending the X-Men have nothing to do with them, just because Fox holds the film licence, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is busy promoting Inhumans as the substitute. For the tv series, that means a whole heap of people are going to start discovering superpowers (resulting from the contamination of fish oil with Terrigen, a sort of ironic steal from Popeye and his can of Spinach).

Such as Joe, not long out of the closet and facing the fact of a lifelong return, just because he can now liquefy metals. There are two organisations after the Joes of this rapidly evolving world, the good guys being SHIELD, who want to help them understand and control their abilities, the other being ATCU, headed by the mysterious Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer is a disturbingly fetching black page-boy bob).

What ATCU wants is as yet unclear (it wasn’t actually them burning holes through Inhumans’ hearts) but the already xenophobic attitude they display does nothing to dispel the idea that they’re going to be the bad guys.

This set-up of the main season conflict was nicely judged, with SHIELD starting off with the edghe but ATCU clearly are going to have the facilities.

Elsewhere, Fitz is still racing around trying to recover Simmons (Ian de Caestecker whomping the acting ball out of the metaphorical stadium in heartbreaking fashion), though he wasn’t privy to the audience’s revelation in the pay-off that saw a running Gemma high-tailing it across a different planet.

Skye has accepted her true heritage and is now going by her birth-name of Daisy. Bobbi’s still recuperating, filling in time filling in for Simmons in the lab, whilst the ever sardonic Hunter is intent on going after Grant Ward, and not to deliver him milk and cookies either. These last two came as a relief: I’d been reading rumours about their being spun-off to a series of their own so I was glad to see them still in situ.

Henry Simmons, as Mack, has been elevated to Cast for Season 3, as has Luke Simmons as Lincoln, the Inhuman who can fire off electric bolts. At this stage, Lincoln doesn’t want anything to do with SHIELD, though we know that that’s not going to be tenable, don’t we?

Which leaves only Agent May and the aforementioned Ward, neither of whom put in an appearance in this episode, presumably so as not to make things too crowded (the regular cast now numbers ten).

What we got was a very good season opener, in touch with the continuity of previous seasons but setting in motion the new phases to occupy our weeks for the next twenty-one episodes. And hopefully pulling back some of that ‘where’s the superpowers’ audience in the process. Solid ratings will secure a Season 4 in due course, and Agents of SHIELD has been operating at the level that deserves that security for long enough already.